Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

'Kingdom' Falls Just Short of Heaven

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

'Kingdom' Falls Just Short of Heaven

Article excerpt

When he isn't busy with science-fiction hits such as "Alien" and "Blade Runner," or military movies like "Black Hawk Down" and "G.I. Jane," action specialist Ridley Scott sometimes opens the history books for material. Five years ago he struck Oscar and audience gold with the Roman epic "Gladiator," and this year he's hoping to do the same with "Kingdom of Heaven," a tale of Crusaders fighting Muslims in the Holy Land during the 12th century.

Orlando Bloom plays Balian, a young English blacksmith enlisted in the Crusades by his father, who's hitherto been absent from his life. Dad quickly leaves his life again, getting killed and thus passing along his aristocratic title to his son - who happens to be illegitimate - scandalizing the conservative set who don't think titles should go to just anyone.

Arriving in Jerusalem, our hero leads Christian forces striving to keep Saladin and his Muslim army out of the walled city, and finds time to romance a pretty princess along the way. The climax is a battle that Balian, badly outnumbered, insists on fighting in order to save as many innocent lives as possible within the city. The finale suggests that the cycle of violence will continue. That's certainly what happened historically, as new Crusaders replaced their fallen predecessors.

"Kingdom of Heaven" is more ambitious than "Gladiator" in that William Monahan's screenplay wants to raise contemporary issues as well as ones rooted entirely in the past. As publicity materials point out, this is a rare look at the Christian-Muslim conflict made during the post-9/11 era. Twentieth Century Fox seems proud of its courage in tackling such a sensitive topic through a blockbuster movie.

I'd be more impressed with the studio's boldness, though, if it had taken on matters like the morality of holy wars and anti- Islamic bias directly, exploring them in a contemporary context instead of viewing them as they existed almost a millennium ago.

The movie's high quality as an adventure epic also works against any seriousness it might be aiming for. …

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